Wednesday, September 26, 2007
America and Iran have been lashing each other these days like a couple of prisoners in a cell block chain fight. France, Israel, and Nicaragua have weighed in with criticisms of their own this week. There are quite frankly too many broadsides to briefly outline. Countries don’t shoot off inflammatory remarks at each other of course, their various elected or appointed figureheads do. The ills of a given society however are something the whole nation is culpable for in one way or another. Therein lies the crucial dynamic; one single person can point the finger at the problems requiring a whole nation to fix. I guess that’s why it’s a tactic employed so often; it’s easy to do and hard to prevent.
What I see is that attacks against the policies of one country are being made by members of another nation who has an equally spotty record in some other regard. Iran is getting rightly blasted for their treatment of gays by the Americans, who are at the same time host to a racially-charged series of incidents known internationally now as the Jena Six. France is giving us dire warnings about the nuclear ambitions of Iran meanwhile they’ve all but segregated and ghettoized their own Muslim population. Nicaragua’s got a lot to say about American imperialism but they run some of the most notorious prisons in the world. No country on earth is so peerless that they can cast dispersions without coming off as hypocrites. Even peaceful, benevolent Canada's batting average isn’t all that stellar. We along with the United States, Australia, and New Zealand are the nations who declined to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples not too long ago because I guess our government prefers our First People the way they are; all fucked up and living the hell away from the rest of us.
What I’m coming to understand is that as human civilizations around the globe mature they each become misanthropic in their own special way. What I can’t figure out is the pay-off for pointing these problems out and preventing alliances in the doing; why bother with these anti-diplomatic pursuits? The world seems content to have its’ leaders bring attention to the ills of others all the while ignoring the one’s easily found in their own backyard. What is the underlying message to be understood within this ongoing behaviour? Sure WE can be shitty at times but THEY are much worse. Yes WE have been bad but THEY are the bad guys. If that’s what this all boils down to then what a bloody waste of time.
If today’s links have a theme then I guess it would be nations talking shit about each other or being shitty to their own kind. Just the kind of rainy day reading you need, right?
First we have the man of the hour, Ahmadinejad. His visit to America has been big news. The man is a great debater and a smooth orator but he also seems arrogant. I don’t know what points he thought he was going to score in open debate with America but in the end there was one thoughtless statement that ruined his credibility. If he can obviously lie about there being no homosexuals in the seventy million strong Republic of Iran, what else might he be lying about?
He got another chance to slag Bush at The U.N. Assembly along with a bunch of other lesser powers. Why shouldn’t they when Bush turned around and did the same thing to them?
America’s treatment of the Iraqi population has hit a new low with news surfacing that snipers ‘bait’ supposed insurgents by leaving bomb parts and ammo out in the open for anyone to find. Should – for example – a destitute Iraqi pick it up in hopes of trading it for some fresh water then BOOM, HEADSHOT! The U.S. just bagged another terrorist. There are no words… It’s just unbelievable to me.
Just a quick fact, the war is now costing something like $720 million dollars a day.
Meanwhile in Myanmar the political situation has brought protesting monks out of the woodwork. This has naturally resulted in all manner of bans, curfews and the standard suite of civilian control measures.
Closer to home a small New Jersey town reaps the benefits of hating Mexicans looking for work. They make it illegal to hire an illegal, the Mexicans leave for greener pastures, and the town is now in an economic slump because no one is stopping for a snack at the diner or getting their hair done. Let situations like this serve as a clear indicator as to what is really going on with this whole illegal immigration/broken borders thing. If the whole “they took are jobs” mantra has proven false in a real world test then what else is there left except for good old fashion bigotry?
If you were wondering about that whole Canada and Native Rights thingy…
Finally I’ll leave you with some historical items, one of shit talking and one of shit giving. Sputnik was launched fifty years ago amidst the Golden Age of rhetoric; The Cold War. This article is an interesting retrospective on how the space race played into the politics of those times. Also fifty years ago this week the Little Rock Nine made news; black kids trying to go to an all-white high school. Jazz Timelord Louis Armstrong became a focal point when he finally became angry enough to speak his mind on the matter. The rest, as they say, became history…
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I was unimpressed with Halo's first two offerings. As someone who until recently only played off-line I never sampled the true strength of the franchise. In starting the original 'Halo: Combat Evolved' I thought the enemies were childish, the architecture bland, and the environment somewhat ridiculous. This was trying to be a space epic played out on what looked like a well-manicured golf course. Even on the shooter-starved PS2 there were games that had better atmosphere and story, something vital to the single player experience. I took a pass on the Master Chief and the original X-Box thereby.
Things are a bit different now though. For one the 360 has proven itself to be a gutsy shooter box. Sure she sounds rickety and runs hot but the controller is aces, the wireless on-line is dependable, and the well-stocked library of exclusives and high-end PC ports has more than paid for itself in hours of entertainment. I reasoned that Halo 3 was liable to show as much improvement over its predecessors as the 360 has over the original X-Box. As well I have been increasingly getting into tracking the medium in and of itself and that means experiencing the milestones as they occur. So with these final rationalizations in mind I skipped out onto Dundas and headed towards Young.
On my way I passed three different guys clutching small bags that could only contain a disc package of some kind. The only two likely options that came to mind regarding what lay within was pornography or the midnight selling video game. One of them was on the phone as I passed him and I heard him say; "I'll be there in three minutes!" with all the urgency of Ethan Hunt in the midst of an Impossible Mission. Either I just missed out on one hell of an intense circle-jerk or Halo man-love was in the air!
I passed by the big outlets; the Electronic Boutique and the HMV in favour of the local, non-franchised Game Shack. Support your local retailers, right? In truth I was going to buy this game with a gift certificate I received on my birthday (thanks Mark!) I will happily put down my hard-earned coin on a Bioshock in order to have my vote on capitalism shape the world but when it comes to over-hyped, mainstream-hungry titles like this, I much prefer to spend other people's money.
I would imagine that in the grand, shining cities of the States there were launch parties, booth babes, game-inspired costumes, fireworks, a P. Diddy performance and uncorked bottles of champagne aplenty but in downtown Toronto the game store had all the buzz of a methadone clinic. Two rented guards allowed the junkies in one at a time. We were to inform them ahead of time how we were going to pay. Once directed to the proper teller we could then state what edition (Regular, Limited, or Legendary) we desired. Eye contact with the store clerks was not encouraged. Only when the attendant had completely let go of the aforementioned little baggie could we scurry out, free then to hiss at the remaining clientele as we disappeared into the night.
Once home I was feeling tired and contemplated what to do next. My wife would certainly roll her eyes at my little foray into fandom and for a moment I thought that I would leave the game in plain view, still wrapped in cellophane. What a show of strength and maturity that would be! Yes, I went out and bought the game in question as alleged but so intact are my priorities that I went straight to bed without sampling nary a cranny on the crumpet.
Then however another thought crossed my mind; a giddy epiphany unsullied by responsibility, or parenting, or even the love of a good woman. The game is brand-spanking new. The on-line playing field is as level as it will ever be and this golden opportunity, this near-magical moment in time and space will last for only a few hours before the all-nighters establish the age-old hierarchy of pwning noobs and dominating casual players like me. I had the chance to strike quick, strike hard, and best of all, strike first!
The time was precisely 12:38am when I fired up the console. Thankfully the game came with a large diagram explaining all of the button functions so I didn't even need to open the book. Ignoring the pull of the single player campaign I dove into matchmaking. The game said that over 17,000 players were on-line at that moment and less than 3,000 were in Basic Training, or the novice arenas. The odds, my friends, have never been so good.
I jacked in and liked what I was seeing within ten seconds. The game moves well and the images are crisp and to the point. I was in some kind of multi-levelled military installation nestled in a jungle by night with four other opponents. One of them came within range and we duelled. Well, I duelled, he died! YES! My first kill and to the immense stroking of my ego I got it in before I was fragged. That has never happened for me in any on-line game I've played. Usually I must perish in a dozen unholy fires before I claim my first victim. Curse words came over my speakers but I don't yet have a microphone. I would be a mute, remorseless killer, incapable of taunts or boasting. I would be Old Death himself; silent, inexorable, pitiless... I died about seven seconds after my kill.
The map wasn't too large and one could memorize it after about five minutes of play. Weapons lay scattered about and I quickly found a couple of favorites; a heavy-duty 'spiker' handgun that you could dual-wield to horrible short-range effect, and a kind of grenade launcher with a six-shot magazine that could double-kill if you happened to come across a duel in progress. I found that to be a cunning strategy. Keep a low profile until signs of conflict made themselves known, then swoop in and lay waste to both preoccupied combatants. After one such bit of skulduggery I made sure to use the crouch command continuously over the dead and 'hump the corpse' just as YouTube has taught me. By the Hammer of Thor I humped their corpses in the name of my forefathers as did the Norse gods of old!
The time eventually ran out on our first match, none of the players achieving the 25 kills needed to end the game. I came in first place - tied actually - with another opponent and I claiming 14 kills each. I fittingly came in second place in the second match, scoring 18 kills to the winner's 25. I played a few more matches and acquitted myself well staying in the top half of the roster, but I would never claim victory again that night and heap further glory upon my name.
And you know what? I'm liable to not do so ever again. The magical moment has passed, the game has been out for many hours now and all the serious players have no doubt begun to master each weapon, memorize each map, and further hone their skills making victims out of better players than I. From now on and with increasing frequency the corpse that will be humped will probably be my own.
It was fun to take part in that first hour of Halo and from what I've seen the game has promise. There seems to be a dedicated film and screenshot component for you to store your more memorable moments, and a map editor so that you may make your own arenas. In just my cursory perusal of these functions I could sense a real effort put forth to give the players something worthwhile. Even if the single player campaign winds up to be short and lacklustre I think this game's inevitable hit status is going to be well-deserved.
So if you ever hit the matches and happen to find a Dyno 360 player don't bother to say hello, I can't hear you. I can only smell your fear and taste your pain. Should you happen to beat me down then hump away young Spartan, you've earned your eternal glory!
Friday, September 21, 2007
My initial plan was to balance out the posts with an equal mix of world events, entertainment and Canadian interest stories so that it would read like a generalist magazine, like Maclean's for example. Heh heh! Check it out, as soon as our dollar hits parity no one is afraid to whip out the inflammatory imagery anymore. I must say though that mustache looks rather good on him. I'm also a big beret fan, they're so damn jaunty!
As I add entries however a pattern emerges contrary to my plan and in truth I've been censoring my content a bit because of it. The blog is focusing on America, particularly America's work in the Middle East, and even more particularly on the Iraq War.
The reason for this is something that required me to become honest with myself. The truth is I am deeply fascinated with the U.S. of A.; the role it's taken in the world, and how that role is changing their society. It's a truth that I'm not entirely comfortable with. For one, lots of the stories coming out of the U.S. these days are quite negative and I can easily see my commenting on them coming off as contempt or even hate. That would be not only bad but illogical. America is a huge and diverse country, either the third or forth largest in the world by area depending on who you believe and home to over three hundred million people - a great many of them from other parts of the world to begin with. It's too big to hate and quite frankly, there's tons I love about America. They're the best at a bunch of cool things and as far as people go they have some real gems, millions of gems in fact.
My second source of apprehension about this interest is that I'm a Canadian for crying out loud! What kind of wannabe finger-pointer am I turning myself into? I want to throw this level of passion into Canadian affairs - I really do - because it would be a great expression of the patriotism I feel towards my homeland. But you know what? It's just not there. I love Canada but I guess I'm not 'in love' with Canada. She's a great girl and those tits! Second biggest in the world baby... but she's a little boring though, which I guess is a by-product of stability. She likes to stay home on the weekends and day-to-day nothing much ever happens. How does that old saying go? Men want to marry the Canadas but until then we want to fuck the Americas. America is exciting, she's fucking crazy yo! She wants you to tool around in the convertible she just stole while doing lines off her guns - which unlike Canada's are silicone implants but they're still pretty spectacular in their own right.
Plus there is the fact that she's at war; a big, nasty, murky, quagmire of a cat-fight. We are living in history right now, that thing that seemed to happen a lot to our grandparents but seemed set to pass my generation right by. Why not become informed? How many times are in our lives are we going to learn about historical events by reading the morning paper? My best friend and I pulled suddenly off the road one beautiful morning and watched the second tower go down live, in real time. "This is it," my inner child voice told me as I watched, "this is what the end of the world looks like." I know the world is not ending but I also know that those towers haven't finished falling yet. The chapter is not yet complete.
So I guess the time came to own up to my dirty little fetish and come clean. In this blog I'll examine America and take notice of all the ripples it creates around the world. I'm not going to focus exclusively on the States but by the same token I'm no longer going to hold back posts because this will be my umpteenth Yankee Doodle diary entry. So with that and a newly revised mission statement that more accurately reflects the situation on the ground, here are some links...
I think Maclean's is becoming consciously more sassy in hopes of increasing their circulation amongst the 'in your face' generation. In my opinion that image above doesn't really fit with the article attached but the story itself is bloody brilliant. The author's knowledge of the Iraqi people and their shifting alliances makes this a must-read if you're interested in the Iraq occupation.
If you want to read more about Iraq and the significance of its' cities with regards to Islam then Scott Ritter's paper is another good one. This guy was a former intelligence officer and weapons inspector so he has a raw, to-the-point style that's quite different then a journalist or academic. His insight and opinions are one of the intellectual foundations of the modern anti-war movement so he's always got something interesting to point out.
During the Petraeus Homecoming Extravaganza earlier this month the Democratic-friendly anti-war organization MoveOn (http://www.moveon.org/) took out a full page ad denouncing the general in the New York Times. This created wicked backlash and gave the Republicans a much needed target to lash out at and direct attention away from the war. Same old - same old so I didn't bother commenting on it but it just got a bit more interesting.
The senate voted on condemning the ad and a great many Democrats supported the motion. It's a matter of dignity and propriety, right? You can't besmirch an army man even if he does completely cross the military/political line. One problem though, MoveOn has donated millions of dollars to Democratic candidates and they would therefore be justified in considering this vote to be a stab in the back. Some Democrats have not only bitten the hand that feeds them but they may have bitten it off completely. This might create a big change in the netroots and where they decide to give their money. Time will tell.
Finally something light and fluffy. I've never seen Kathy Griffen's show 'My Life on the D-List' but she's always been good for a laugh. In her Emmy speech she cracked wise about how so many people thank God for winning and this of course drew scorn from various religious groups. One line in particular jumped out at me.
"It's just not OK anymore to mock Christians and Jesus with impunity."
Take note unbelievers! The times, they're not just a-changing, they've done gone and changed! It's just not okay anymore and you can thank me for giving you the memo! Serious stuff, huh? I wonder what they'll do now that it's not okay? I'm hoping for crucifixion-lite; big staples instead of spikes to keep you up there without marring the flesh too much, something Don Rumsfeld would be cool with signing off on. You want to know what I think? I think these mild-mannered Christians are getting jealous of the wide birth Islamic fundamentalists get on account of them going ape-shit over comics and other forms of stoning-worthy nonsense. All this time those bible-thumpers have been doing that whole 'meek shall inherit the earth' shtick and the problem is nobody lives in FEAR of them anymore. Who wants that when you can claim the moral authority bust that lippy ginger-kid Kathy Griffen in the mouth for putting down the fucking Jesus! Can I get an A-MEN
Well how about a X-MEN?
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Many games are played in the third person and seeing as you're liable to be looking at the character for hours on end it's fitting that games come with some level of customization so that you become more involved and thus less bored with your digital avatar. Sure this results in buxom blondes snowboarding through blizzards in hot pants or Japanese schoolgirls chainsawing their way through zombies wearing a leotard and fairy wings but isn't this the kind of free-form creative cauldron from which high art springs? Perhaps I should just get on with a review...
Heavenly Sword is a title exclusive to the PS3 and developed by the somewhat new and little known Ninja Theory. This game was literally given years of hype and was to be a console mover for Sony's pricey new game machine. After completing the game I would say that Heavenly Sword isn't the must-buy Sony promised but I'm really quite glad to have played it through.
The box art of this games tells it all, this is a fighting fantasy adventure story featuring a sword-wielding heroine named Nariko - who I would have selected even if they gave me other choices. Nariko also looks like she is just dying to be played by Angelina Jolie when the rights get picked up to make a so-so movie. From time to time you shift from playing Nariko to her delightfully deranged side-kick, Kai. The story; one of curses, vengeance and redemption is a good one being well told and dramatically executed. The characters are excellent with a minimal amount of cliche, something that sadly plagues even the highest end of video game entertainment to this day.
Andy Serkis of Gollum and King Kong fame was heavily advertised while this game was in production and his inclusion was featured as a major selling point. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he is also the game's Dramatic Director, meaning he had control of the cut-scene acting throughout the game. For this and his actual performance Mr. Serkis should be commended. The cut-scenes (usually a source of impatience and scorn for game players) are the best I've seen. The evil King Bohan is a lively villain and his cronies are at times even more so. Flying Fox in particular is a fantastically perverse character who is truly unique and gives a performance to rival iconic bad guys like Darth Vader. Seriously, he's just that wack!
The overall presentation of the story itself is so wonderful that a merely serviceable control scheme and game mechanic becomes forgivable in my mind. Nonetheless Nariko handles somewhat spongy and soft with just a bit of delay between commands given and action taken. The fighting system, while intuitive and effective enough is rather simple. This is unfortunate because a tighter control scheme and a more involved combat matrix would have elevated this game into a complete and epic package. Deeper fighting/adventure game franchises such as Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry will still appeal more to the hardcore gamer because there is more to do, more to learn, and more to exploit. If Ninja Theory didn't want to make a combo-heavy fighter then they should have paid more attention to the perfect God of War, a game that mechanically outshines Heavenly Sword on all fronts while running on a console with only a fraction of the power.
The game breaks up the melee fighting with an archery/ballistic mechanic that utilizes the Sixaxis controller with a spot of time dilation. You get to steer your shots, correct your aim, and even avoid obstacles before striking your target. Getting the knack is tricky but once you do it becomes a boatload of fun! You can throw a barrel or even a body at any time during melee to utilize the mechanic but when missile fire is given the spotlight it truly shines.
While this game might appeal more to casual or new gamers rather than experienced hands there are a few other wiggles that detract from the overall experience no matter what end of the spectrum you are on. It's short for game, like really, really short. Everyone is going to run through this story in about five or six hours and when you account for lengthy cut-scenes it leaves you with a relatively short amount of play time. This makes Heavenly Sword one of the more expensive games on a dollar-per-hour of entertainment ratio and it seems to have left game players wanting. Ninja Theory should have given us more and I think they could have.
Visually the game while in-play is reasonably good if a little heavy on light effects and short on textures. The cut-scene CGI is very strong and is able to do subtle things like convey emotion with the eyes. There are several sweeping vistas that do a nice job enhancing the environment with cinematic flair. When there is a lot going on however the frame rate hits the dirt and there is some tearing, slowdown, and flicker. Not a good thing, especially when it's a game made exclusively for a machine boasting to destroy the competition when it's not curing cancer.
Heavenly Sword is ambitious and to its' credit I think it hits more than it misses. The gaming community in general gave it a 'good but not great' rating which caused Sony to lose a bit of face after all the hype it slathered on the title in the run-up to the Console Wars. It's a game that hits such high notes on its' peripheral aspects: the cut-scenes, the music, even the menu screen, but they didn't nail down the meat and potatoes, the actual game itself to make the experience consistent. In the beginning I was underwhelmed with the gaming but so impressed overall that I thought Heavenly Sword was more like a great movie in which you get to play through some of the scenes. The pace and involvement improves towards the middle and by the end it redeems itself to the point where I think the gaming community was being too critical. I'm glad I made the purchase and will play it again just like I would pull out a favorite movie on a rainy day.
I hope the game is successful enough financially to not scare developers away from lavish, highly cinematic games and I hope that Ninja Theory gets another chance to tell a story and tune up in the places where they need to improve. It's short running time make it beyond attractive to the renter but to those who like me are disciples of the medium it certainly belongs in the collection.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
I know very little about Iranian people and the Iranian way of life but I'm going to go out on a limb and make a sweeping generalization: These Iranians, let me tell you they just HATE to have their country reduced to a quasi-military map filled with "possible flash points" and big-assed nuclear symbols. I bet we can all figure out just what the fuck a flash point is, right? Why the hell would a newspaper feel compelled to create a graphic explaining how one country or coalition of countries is going to fricassee another country? Are we really learning anything with this image or is the point for us to unlearn what that map truly represents? (That would be seventy million people who no doubt share our love of clean water and electricity.)
The shit-talk against Iran is running high my friends and like excrement it flows from areas of high concentration to low, moving around the world like the migratory poo-geese of old. It starts of course with everyones' favorite fistula of foreign policy; Bush! Iran is to blame for Iraq's ongoing woes and they must be contained. Dick Cheney is smiling because he knows exactly what what means - cue the map! (You can find a big version in the following link.)
Next it was France beating the war drum. (Yeah I know, the joke writes itself but I'm shooting for originality here.) The French Foreign Minister was talking tough, no doubt echoing the sentiments of France's new, neo-con friendly President Nicholas Sarkozy. This is a good thing, the chicken hawks are saying, because what with America's credibility in the toilet the world needs another country to make accusations and veiled threats.
China and Russia have both stepped up and said enough with the dick-swinging already. When the hell did you think that those countries would be the rational voice of reason? Funny thing is there's an answer to that rhetorical sounding question: Ever since they all got in bed together with global trade agreements and sweet energy deals. Tee Hee Hee!!!
I cannot see Iran being invaded a la Iraq but a bombing campaign is something I can't easily dismiss. I think the world at large is completely fed up with pre-emptive war but if Bush and Cheney unilaterally call in strikes I don't know what the rest of the world would do about it. As Israel's attack on Lebanon last summer clearly indicated, right and wrong are meaningless when you have enough power to ignore dissenters in the U.N. I think most world leaders don't see Iran in the hyperbolic colours that the U.S. or Israel paint the Persians with, but instead are hoping to lie low and wait out the Presidency before engaging in some genuine diplomatic overtures. Of course in the meanwhile the U.N. Security Council will soon vote on whether stricter sanctions need to be laid on Iran. I think sanctions are vile but this post is running long enough as it is, I'll vent another time.
In most-likely related news Israel performed air strikes on what seems to be a Syrian reactor site over a week ago. There has been limited information released on the operation, apparently the strike was to destroy nuclear equipment delivered from North Korea. It is thought that the operation was also a dry-run to test new abilities should they be needed against Iran. All of this however is speculation.
It starts up top with a logo; a bear paw framed in sniper sights. This is the escutcheon of Blackwater U.S.A., a private military corporation of fair size and infamy. Looking at it you may come to the notion that a bear is about to be dinged in the foot by a high caliber rifle but rest assured this double-barrelled blast of masculine imagery swats aside such limp-wristed red flags of logic just long enough for the eyes to move downward, to focus upon the money shot; the metal-as-fuck babe riding a rampant grizzly! "Rough, Ready, Anytime, Anywhere. BLACKWATER... You call, we haul." Rock you like a mother-fucking hurricane, bitches!!! Seriously, THIS is exactly what I want my Slutfucker (tm) rock band to embody. It was wise of them to put such a powerful logo on a beige backdrop for the traditional black would absorb the heat it generates and prove injurious to the wearer.
When Blackwater is not searing my sockets with the visual equivalent of white-hot seminal fluid they're killing civilians at a fairly efficient clip. To summarize: Insurgent sniper goes to work on a Blackwater convoy. The mercenaries light up the surrounding area in response, killing nine civilians and wounding fifteen - none of them the sniper. No Blackwater operatives are injured in the incident.
This looks like it's going to be the big Iraq item this week except it's old news. Blackwater and other mercenary corporations operating in Iraq have been targeting non-combatants with regular frequency throughout the campaign. To be fair one can understand if not condone the rent-a-troop's point of view. These men get into S.U.V.s where they tool around Baghdad escorting cargo trucks or ferrying V.I.P.s from the airport to the Green Zone in a four kilometer run cheerily entitled "The Highway of Death." They have to worry about I.E.D.s as well as car-borne suicide bombers crossing the median in congested traffic and taking them out. What's worse, if they get hit they cannot count on the army's medical facilities for a patch up or even prosthetics. Naturally this makes them inclined to shoot everything that moves within a hundred feet of them. Even more natural is the seething hatred these armed squads have earned with everyday Iraqis. Did anyone ever believe that whole "Hearts and Minds" claptrap at the onset of the invasion?
There is no count as to how many bodies the mercenaries have racked up, nor has there been anything in the way of accountability. Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17 states that private military contractors are immune from Iraq prosecution and hence the law. Since they're not U.S. soldiers they are not bound by the Rules of Engagement or technically even the Geneva Convention. What we have is the Army of Plausible Deniability that recruits out of the NASCAR Speedatorium.
The mercenary count in Iraq has been estimated at over one hundred thousand strong. These numbers render irrelevant any other national contribution besides the U.S., which is worth mentioning because it means that America's real partner in this endeavor; the 'Coalition of the Billing' as it were are companies that rose from two-bit obscurity to hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts a year supplying soldiers that congress did not sign off on.
The Iraq Interior Ministry has stated that Blackwater will have its' licence revoked but this is a threat with no substance. Licences are not necessary to operate in Iraq and the contractors get their jobs from the State Department. If the U.S. wants them there, they stay. Blackwater C.E.O. Erik Price is a big Bush supporter on all fronts so I doubt very much that his company is going anywhere.
'Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror' by Robert Young Pelton is an excellent book on modern mercenary employment. Pelton talks about their presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, he rides with Blackwater operatives in Baghdad and has full access to their state-side headquarters. He goes over the skirmishes and full-on battles the mercenaries have taken part in; violent, sustained engagements that do not get reported by our media. The private soldiers themselves get a lot of spotlight too and a rather sad story emerges; that of struggling, mortgage-laden fathers who are taking dangerous jobs because employment has dried up in whatever Yankee burg they hail from.
It should come as no surprise that there are ten times more mercenaries in Iraq today than there were during the first Gulf offensive back in 1991. As the factory jobs have dried up the private security industry has boomed. We could be watching the beginning of a great shift whereby America's business focus changes from manufacturing to the import of military might. The title of this blog, which is one of Blackwater's many slogans, seems to be making no bones about it either.
The flipside to the cash-strapped corporate commandoes are the likes of Seal Team Six, Delta, and the almighty S.A.S. These are the elites doing crazy special ops takedowns with a frequency unrivaled in all their respective organization's history. The article above is pure war-porn so make sure to have some hand cream nearby before you click the link.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I was present with an atomic bomb-like hangover on account of an all-night Honolulu pub crawl. My thoroughly wretched state made me the pariah of the tour bus and added a solitary, depressing vibe to the excursion - which proved strangely fitting when you're walking around a quiet and respectful place where lots and lots of people have died.
As I strolled through the well-manicured greenery eating one of the best egg salad sandwiches I've ever ate (from a vending machine, no less) I came across this face here on a modest plaque. That's Doris Miller, whos' story was indifferently portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the lacklustre blockbuster Pearl Harbour.
Mr. Miller was a cook aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia when the Japanese attacked. At first Doris busied himself carrying his wounded crewmates to safety, including a Captain who was hit while on the bridge. As the battle reached its climax Miller manned a .50 calibre anti-aircraft gun, having received no training in its operation. It is said he brought Japanese bombers down and sustained injury himself as the West Virginia took in water below decks and eventually settled at the bottom of the harbour. He was the first black man to be awarded a medal of valour (The Navy Cross) in World War II.
Doris later served aboard the U.S.S. Liscome Bay which was sunk by torpedo in the Battle of Tarawa. He was never seen again and was reported Missing In Action. Just like that.
I cried after reading of his demise. In just the short reading of the plaque I came to feel a fierce admiration for such a courageous character; the cook who became a war hero and I felt that his end was grossly undeserved. He had already done his duty to the utmost but that terrible war demanded even more, like a monster with no notion of fair play.
It was Ernest Hemingway who wrote: "In modern war... You will die like a dog for no good reason." The statement is not just true but it seems burdened with the exhausted, frustrated and fatalistic feelings of a man who learned that lesson in the practical manner rather than someone like me, someone who merely reads what a giant like him wrote and tries to absorb the meaning while sitting on a comfy couch.
Shortly before I started this blog a group of seven soldiers collaborated on an editorial that was published in the New York Times. Titled "The War as We Saw It," it painted a stark and realistic picture of the mission as seen in the eyes of the troop-writers. It ran counter to much of what the likes of General Petraeus has been saying and was treated as a controversy piece; an unwelcome injection of reality amidst the sugar-coated propaganda. You can read it here...
Just a month later two of the writers have since died in a vehicle accident. Apparently a third has been shot in the head but his fate is not yet sealed and so there is little news to report.
When I found out about this I thought of Doris Miller and the good Ernesto's famous quote. I don't know why these situations make me feel so bitter and angry. If I were to guess it might be that my sense of poetic justice is so enraged by incidents like this. War heroes deserve to go home, don't they? And those in war who so eloquently educate us on what they see, are they not a precious resource, a part of our human treasury whos' knowledge and outlook might council the policy of peace in the generations to come? No, they're nothing but dogs and if they don't die today they will die tomorrow regardless of their contributions, great or small, so long as the war grinds on.
As we lionize the lives of our heroes we wind up glorifying war and so are doomed to perpetual military engagement because we miss the lesson. It's not just that people die in war but Great People die, the people we need in order to keep our civilization at the top of its game. Perhaps if our societies focused on the stupid and inglorious ways these heroes met their end then we might ponder a little more on the pointlessness of standing by while conflict cherry picks our citizenry.
Meanwhile President Bush's exit strategy in Iraq is becoming increasingly clear. There will be the full contingent of troops present up until he leaves office. Changing the course in this conflict will be the job of the next President, not his.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Oil is a big subject, probably the biggest on earth these days and I tend to read up on it whenever something filters down. Business, foreign policy, and the environment all have their little heads wrapped around the subject and nothing aside small arms fire to the skull possesses the power to alter human reality as does this non-renewable resource. If you haven't seen the documentary 'Crude Awakening' then I highly recommend it along with 'The End of Suburbia.'
Iran is going ahead with their plan to trade oil in non-U.S. currency - in the above article's case, the yen. Now this is really interesting stuff because nothing is going to earn you twelve hard inches of uncircumcised freedom and democracy in your puckered ass more than fucking with the petrodollar.
I'll just briefly go over this for those who don't know. In order to buy oil you have to have significant reserves of currency in your foreign exchange to cover all transactions. No trader is willing to accept unstable currencies for products like oil because the amounts are so large that any fluctuation can result in millions of dollars in loss. Reserve Currencies are preferred, they being tender that is stable and represents rich countries with minimal chance of fluctuation. There is a transaction cost with every purchase and so in order to save money and stabilize their oil expenditures most countries stockpile large quantities of U.S. dollars.
For decades the U.S. dollar has been the currency of choice and the Americans leveraged this to the fullest extent, usually by running large trade deficits with countries using U.S. dollars to buy oil. It's a sweet arrangement because if decreasing the deficit would result in a decrease in the value of the U.S. dollar then the trade partner would take an equal hit what with all the currency they are holding. No thanks then, you just take your time with that.
Saddam Hussein had the bright idea to start trading Iraq oil in euros back in 2000. This new arrangement, or bourse in oil lingo, didn't get very far off the ground before they were invaded. Coincidence? Of course it is, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. What's the Number One benchmark for the paralyzed Iraqi government to meet if they are to prove themselves credible in the eyes of the Bush Administration? The creation of the all-important oil sharing laws, the drilling companies need legal protection before they go in and start pumping. "To the Victor Goes the Spoils" and if you're clever you may notice that 'spoils' has the word 'oils' in it, so with that the prosecution rests.
If Iran starts with this monkey-business you can bet that Venezuela won't be far behind, those two are now like BFF's. This might result in a massive devaluation of U.S. currency and a renewed interest in the trade deficits. Its' artificially high value lasts only so long as country's hold on to the money. Big trouble for America? No one can say for sure. Petrodollar warfare is a theory at best, the economy is so big and so complex that no one can say with certainty what even a massive change will do. The market does correct to a degree, governments do step in with massive infusions of liquid to stabilize their country's business concerns, and new opportunities do arise from the ashes of economic collapse.
Still, oil prices has everyone feeling a bit dodgy. OPEC will increase production by half a million barrels a day in hopes of having oil ceiling out at $80.00 a barrel. It's getting so high that countries are liable to collapse on account of not being able to afford it. Doesn't make for as many repeat customers, I guess. This article is worth opening just to see the shit-eating grin on the man in the picture. THAT'S an oil grin my friends, no mistaking it. It has the same flesh-eating creepiness of the pedo-smile but it's far more effusive.
UPDATE: Oh no! The Iraqi oil law negociations have all but collapsed themselves! The Kurds look more than ready to go it alone and the Sunnis may be holding out on agreeing to anything in order to prevent Prime Minister Maliki from looking in any way competent.
AND in very much related news, oil goes up while the U.S. dollar goes down. Man I should have waited a day before writing this one. Black gold and Petraeus are the items of the week.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Except that there has been no real change in Iraq... DAMN IT!!! I thought their baseless assurances would have stuck this time!
The coverage of this congressional non-event is exhaustive but what I've walked away with is that progress will occur slowly, there is no end in sight, and no predictions can be made as to when that situation will change. Oh yeah, and if America pulls out it quickly it will be a disaster! Can't have an honest discussion about the war without bringing up the point that muzzles all open discussion. Never mind the fact that this administration's track record on Iraq War predictions range from corny to nutty with a whole lot of bullshit in-between.
Also please note the 30,000 Surge troops 'might' be home in a year, just in time for when military experts claim that the U.S. cannot possibly maintain current troop levels any longer. What's the point of a democratic nation debating such weighty matters when reality is truly the authoritarian tyrant of us all! Just send your troops out and God will let you know when they're past the breaking point... by breaking them!
Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have done a fine job regurgitating the administration's well-polished party line today.
How does it come to this? How can total inactivity on any given policy (in this case the Iraq War) over months and years be endorsed and officiated like this? The answer may lie in the leaders and their inability or unwillingness to address mistakes and thus learn from them.
This is an interview for a man who just completed a Bush biography complete with Dubyah's assistance. For a guy who seems to part-time it as a presidential apologist he comes across with a fairly even-handed and rather complex description of the man; charismatic and intelligent, but insecure, doesn't like to be challenged, and isn't one to be bothered with inconvenient facts.
This one is even better, though it's a long one. Donald Rumsfeld did a lengthy, softball interview for GQ magazine up at the old dairy farm he calls his home away from home. His personality along with his titanic ability for self-denial is somewhat charming in a Josef Mengele fashion.
It was fitting that the song itself was peculiarly absent of any hook or identity so as not to distract us from this tragic act. Britney stumbled about to the pop music equivalent of white noise while a stunned and snickering audience of her peers bore sacred witness to the most tragic nosedive of an already too-tragic generation.
While watching this utterly indifferent mother of two try to dry-hump pop stardom one last time all I could think about is who would play her in the assuredly upcoming movie. Film production won't start until she's offed herself of course, these things have a circadian rhythm all their own. I'm hoping for a culmination of peppermint schnapps and prescription meds administered by an evangelist boyfriend with a penchant for shotgun murder-suicides; a grand finale of Star 80 and Fat Elvis magnitude combined.
If you haven't seen the swan-song in question these links might work, though youtube has been knocking them down as fast as they go up.
The peerless New York Post has a nice run-up to the show itself, how Britney prepared in the hours before her career demise. The human brain hasn't evolved sufficiently to evoke this quality of fiction.
Here's an older Britney, back when she was infinitely more marketable. Parents, if your children are this stupid then it is negligent to let them out of the house on their own.
Friday, September 7, 2007
Let's be clear, Iran's theocracy is a sinister ruling class. Iranian people have to be careful or else their government might pick them up, rough them up and do worse if they don't smarten up. The United States has proven themselves morally superior by doing the exact same things only they make sure to do them to foreigners in far-away lands like Cuba, who they're supposed to hate too. This is the morality of the ambulance chaser; the slimy lawyer looking for the legal loophole.
This cartoon illustrates - yet again - America's propensity to lump the rank and file citizenry of a given country with its ruling class. They do this all the time and I guess it just makes it easier to comprehend for some. They did it with Castro, with Chavez, and they certainly did it with Saddam Hussein. He was a bad man, not bad enough for the U.S. to get in bed with back in the 80's when he was willing to slug it out with Iran, but bad enough to smash a country of nearly twenty-seven million people. By ineffectively lording over that conquered land there have been hundreds of thousands of deaths and at last count a couple million people have been reduced to refugee status.
No man is worth all that pain, suffering, and misery. Not ever.
The rhetoric against Iran is high and a bombing campaign is certainly feasible. Dick Cheney stood upon the deck of an aircraft carrier - one of four in the region - and made threats against Iran while only a hundred miles off the coast. That is an image that should never stand in place of foreign policy, not for a crazed African warlord high on cocaine and gunpowder, and certainly not for the Vice President of the United States of America. If Iran is bombed people will die, mostly the elderly and children as they are statistically the most prone to death by air warfare. More people will die then the aforementioned black-black snorting warlord could ever dream of in his wildest drug-fuelled psychotic rages. The question always remains 'for what?'
Ahmadinejad? The Ayatollah? Trust me, not a single bomb will fall on their heads. But who cares anyway, these Iranians, they're cockroaches after all. The Jews were thought of as rodent-kind long before the ovens were fired up. The dehumanization process has got be up and running in order for our collective apathy to kick in.
Here's a bigger version of the cartoon.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
The reason for this is simple; there is nothing comparable to the Bioshock experience and if I want to feel what it offers then I have only one choice. Bioshock stands out as one of the most singular video game experiences I have become immersed in. I doubt very much that your imagination has taken you to the underwater city of Rapture and once you've arrived I'm certain that you will feel compelled to return, despite the fact that you will be fighting for your life for the entirety of your stay. It is a provocative work of art, both enthralling to play and haunting to reflect upon when your shooting session is done.
I will not take much time to review this game here, it is slated to be Game of the Year and it has received much attention on the internet. One of the better examinations I've come across touches upon the deep literary and theatrical themes the game uses to illustrate its philosophy and explore how these thoughts are corrupted into vain ideologies when tampered with by human greed and ego.
To any of you who are uninterested in video games I would only mention that you might be surprised at the amount of hard work, deep analysis, and artistic risk-taking that is going on in this emerging form of entertainment. Modern (photo-realistic) video games have been created wholly in the digital age and indeed they are the chief factor as to why that age came to be. This has created some fundamental differences in the creation of video game property. The openness and free exchange of information on the internet has created an art medium that must strive for excellence in order to survive. As a result that excellence is achieved with more regularity than any other entertainment form and a game like Bioshock stands out as an excellent example. We haven't been told an original story like this in the movies or even books for years.
Video game enthusiasts are amongst the most computer literate people in the world. This makes all the difference because when it comes to controlling information, spinning the results, or in essence creating a "commercial" for your product, they will not be fooled. There is too much raw data out there for them to require your take, they will come to their own conclusions and they will plaster their findings throughout their electronic realm and expose your efforts - good or bad - to millions of their peers. Less than honest projects have withered on the vine under such scrutiny while little known offerings have gathered worldwide interest and support that no advertising blitz could hope to match.
Game producing companies have long learned to not only be respectful of this unusually aware customer base but to harness their energy and involve them in the production run. This takes many forms from forthright presentations and interviews of the product at all stages of development, beta testing and demo releases from which criticism is given special attention, and frank follow-up where project leaders discuss hardships and shortcomings, even going so far as to apologize when a game doesn't deliver all it promises. There are no other mediums that have had such built-in measures of accountability right from the get-go.
A daunting undertaking for the businessman perhaps but a point of pride for the artist because passion is what clearly drives a great many game-makers. They love their work, love being on the cutting edge of technology, and love telling their stories in ways that humanity hasn't yet experienced. They know the truth for they have looked it in the eye; video game entertainment is the next big thing, really big. We're talking movable type, motion pictures, and then interactivity. It's going to be one of the big three when history looks back on how our species entertained and educated ourselves.
They're also serious business. The alchemy of fun is trying to be decoded with some interesting scientific results. The upcoming Halo 3 is getting treated to some of the most exhaustive and innovative testing methods available. I'm curious to see if all this analysis will result in a superlative game experience. Is there a soul in the machine or is it the artist that infuses it with but a keystroke?